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Civil engineering is the field of science dedicated to the designing, building, and maintaining of infrastructure1. Researchers in this field constantly explore new and improved ways of constructing roads, bridges, airports, canals, dams, buildings, and more.
Researchers in civil engineering are often experts in several subjects, including chemistry, physics, advanced mathematics, statistics, geology and more. They are usually more at ease working with numbers and mathematics and may at times have trouble with writing2.
Why Writing Should be Made More Accessible in Civil Engineering
Research in civil engineering informs professionals in several engineering fields and even policymakers. Therefore, it is important that the content of a civil engineering paper, including technical information, is made accessible to readers. Here are five tips to make your paper in civil engineering more engaging and easier to understand.
Provide a Proper Introduction
Civil engineering papers often deal with a specific challenge or problem in construction. To make your paper more accessible, provide a broad context on the problem before getting into specific details. Additionally, explain all the abbreviations you will likely use in the paper beforehand3. To make your paper a more engaging read, mention the problem’s relevance for the economy, environment, or the general public.
All civil engineering papers are either application-based or meant to aid the implementation of projects. However, discussing theory is an effective way to introduce the complexities of a problem to the readers or demonstrate the feasibility of your solutions4.
Use a Mix of Passive and Active Voice
Studies have found that researchers in civil engineering are more inclined to use passive voice even in places where active voice is more effective5. Although civil engineering manuscripts accommodate the impersonal style, use active voice whenever possible, to create a more engaging read.
Use of passive voice exclusively: The reservoir design was made in keeping with the latest environmental protection guidelines. However, the implementation was done in a way that significantly impacted the local ecosystem.
Use of active voice exclusively: The reservoir design followed the latest environmental protection guidelines. However, the implementation significantly impacted the local ecosystem.
Use of a passive-active voice combination: The reservoir design was made in keeping with the latest environmental protection guidelines. However, the implementation significantly impacted the local ecosystem.
Find a Balanced Tone
The language in civil engineering papers cannot be too informal or formal. Find a balance so that the subject feels relatable to the reader despite being explored in a scientifically rigorous manner6.
Too formal: Just over two tons of steel is needed to realize the proposed project.
Too informal: Just over two tons of steel is needed to make the project a reality.
Balanced: Just over two tons of steel is needed to implement the project.
Engineering papers often contain complex ideas, and therefore, reducing cognitive load through any means is desirable. Avoid using unnecessary words like ‘really’ or ‘quite’. In addition, limit the use of pronouns such as ‘it’, ‘these’, and ‘this’ to necessary cases3.
Do not write: The high-rise buildings built using data from the latest earthquake emulation model are really stable.
Instead, write: The high-rise buildings built using data from the latest earthquake emulation model are stable.
You can use the above tips not only for writing civil engineering papers, but also for manuscripts in other disciplines. These tips make your research findings clear and easy to understand, resulting in greater scientific outreach. Visit Elsevier’s Language Editing Services to learn more about our specific writing and editing solutions.
Subject experts at Elsevier Language Services (ELS) can help you improve the readability of your manuscript while retaining all necessary information. Through useful language suggestions, our experienced editors can improve your manuscript’s chances of publication and enhance its reach upon publication.
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- What is Civil Engineering? (n.d.). Swenson College of Science and Engineering | UMN Duluth. https://scse.d.umn.edu/about/departments-and-programs/civil-engineering-department/what-civil-engineering
- Conrad, S. (2012, June 10). Preparing students for writing in civil engineering practice. https://peer.asee.org/preparing-students-for-writing-in-civil-engineering-practice
- Utah State University. (n.d.). Technical Writing Standards | Engineering Writing Center | College of Engineering. USU. https://engineering.usu.edu/students/ewc/writing-resources/technical-writing-standards
- Hailiang, Y. (2019). 4 Must-dos when writing an engineering research paper. Editage Insights. https://www.editage.com/insights/4-must-dos-when-writing-an-engineering-research-paper
- Conrad, S. (2017). The use of passives and impersonal style in civil engineering writing. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 32(1), 38–76. https://doi.org/10.1177/1050651917729864
- Engineering writing style | English for Engineers | University of Southampton. (n.d.). https://www.southampton.ac.uk/englishforengineers/understanding_assessed_tasks/key_skills/writing-style.page